Dividing the waters: How a compact call might unfold on Western Slope — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A chart from the Colorado River District’s Phase III risk study, showing average annual depletions from the Western Slope, including transmountain diversions, tied to both pre and post compact rights. Graphic credit: Colorado River District via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Coloradans use, or deplete, an annual average of 2.5 million acre-feet of water from the state’s various river basins that send water down the Colorado River system to Lake Powell, according to a new study on water use and water rights presented [June 25, 2019] in Grand Junction by the Colorado River District to more than 130 water managers and users.

Of the 2.5 million of annual average consumptive use, the study found that 1.6 million is tied to pre-Colorado River Compact water rights that are not subject to curtailment under the terms of the 1922 compact, which requires that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico send a certain amount of water to the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

But that leaves 932,000 acre-feet of current consumptive water use that is subject to compact curtailment, because the use of the water is tied to post-compact water rights.

The study, which drills down into water use in the various river sub-basins on the Western Slope, found that of the 932,000 acre-feet of post-compact water use, 626,200 acre-feet is from the “Colorado River Mainstem Basin,” which includes the main stem of the Colorado and the tributaries that drain the Roaring Fork, Eagle, Blue and Fraser river basins in Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Grand counties.

The Upper Colorado River Basin, or that section of land drained by the Colorado River, within the state of Colorado, above the Colorado River’s confluence with the Gunnison River. This basin is regulated by the state of Colorado as Division 5, and the state’s regional water court and water engineer’s office are located in Glenwood Springs. Graphic credit: Colorado River District via Aspen Journalism

Exporting water

The Colorado River Basin, for the purposes of water-rights administration, is defined by the state as Division 5. And it accounts for virtually all of the transmountain diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

Of the 626,200 acre-feet of average annual post-compact use in the Colorado River basin, 532,000 acre-feet is attributed to transmountain diversions.

This isn’t breaking news for Front Range water managers, who have long known that their water from the Western Slope is based on post-compact water rights.

“I would be very surprised if any of this is a surprise to them,” said John Carron of Hydros Consulting Inc. in Boulder. He is the engineer managing the study and its complex hydraulic model, which are being paid for by both the Colorado River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango.

But the numbers in the study showing the high reliance on post-compact water rights help illustrate how intertwined the Western Slope and the Front Range are in the face of a compact call.

“This really is a statewide issue, not just a West Slope issue, just by virtue of the fact that 60% of post-compact use in Colorado is by transmountain users,” John Currier, the river district’s chief engineer, said at Thursday’s meeting.

This graphic shows the transmountain diversions in Colorado.

Risk factors

The study also sought to determine whether future depletions from the larger Colorado River upper-basin river system would increase the likelihood of a compact call, based on the hydrology recorded from 1988 to 2015.

The upper basin is supposed to deliver between 8.25 and 7.5 million acre-feet a year to the lower basin, depending on how the compact is interpreted.

The model used in the study found that if new depletions increased by 12%, it would increase the likelihood of compact call by 46% — if the goal was to deliver 8.25 million acre feet year to the lower basin, or 82.5 million acre-feet on a 10-year running average.

If the goal was to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet a year, or 75 million acre-feet on a 10 year running average, the model indicated a 0% increase in risk, primarily because of a new agreement to use reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell, mostly Flaming Gorge Reservoir, to send water downstream.

But, Carron noted, “all models are wrong, some are useful,” and said the risk of a compact call could be higher if there is less water in the future than the amount used in the model.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Priority dates

The study also asked if a compact call were to materialize, how far down a list of post-compact water rights, prioritized by dates, would the state have to curtail in order to send significant amounts of water downstream?

The study found that if the state needed to send 100,000 acre-feet downriver to the lower basin, it would have to curtail post-compact water rights dating back to July 1957.

That’s a notable date, because the water rights for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project — which diverts about 52,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers — have a 1957 priority date and could be curtailed early in the process.

If the state needed to send 300,000 acre-feet downriver, it would need to curtail rights dating back to September 1940, and that could curtail Denver Water’s diversions from Dillon Reservoir through the Roberts Tunnel, which are made under water rights with a 1946 priority date.

If the state needed to send 600,000 acre-feet, it would require curtailing post-compact rights dating back to August 1935, which could curtail the rights from 1935 that allow water to flow through the Adams Tunnel to northern Colorado.

The crowd of water managers and users gathered on June 20, 2019 at the Ute Water Conservancy District to hear the latest on the Colorado River District’s risk study. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Water use

The study also provides an overall portrait of how Coloradans are using water from the Western Slope basins.

Of the 2.5 million acre-feet of water that Coloradans are now using from the state’s rivers that send water down to Lake Powell, including use tied to both pre- and post-compact rights, 1.2 million acre-feet is being depleted from the Colorado River Basin, or Division 5.

Of that 1.2 million acre-feet, 669,000 acre-feet is going toward in-basin uses, such as irrigation in the Grand Valley, and 551,000 acre-feet is going toward transmountain diversions.

Depletions in the other Western Slope basins include 552,000 acre-feet from the Gunnison River basin; 501,000 acre-feet from the Southwest basin, which includes the Dolores and San Juan rivers; 197,000 acre-feet from Yampa River basin; and 62,000 acre-feet from the White River basin.

When it comes to water within each Western Slope basin, most of the water being depleted from the rivers is going to grow hay, grass and alfalfa, with smaller portions being used to irrigate orchards and row crops, and still smaller portions being used to provide water to people and their lawns in cities and towns.

About 600 cfs of water from the Roaring Fork River basin flowing out of the east end of the Twin Lakes Independence Pass Tunnel on June 7, 2017. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Front Range options

Most water users in Colorado are now considering ways to use less water, and most also are concerned about new uses in the system, which could hasten a compact call.

But a specific concern for the Western Slope arises from the Front Range’s heavy reliance on post-compact transmountain diversions, which account for about 60% of Front Range use.

Front Range water managers seem to have two options in the face of a compact call: Buy up land on the Western Slope with senior water rights, and then fallow the land and send the water downstream; or ask the state to not strictly apply the priority system, based on the dates of water rights, in order to avoid junior, post-compact, rights being curtailed.

Either way, the reliance by the Front Range on post-compact water rights is expected to ripple right back to the Western Slope.

“It’s time to start talking with our colleagues on the Front Range,” Jim Pokrandt, the river district’s director of community affairs and the chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, said at the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting.

Barbara Biggs, the chair of the Metro Basin Roundtable, which includes the Denver metro area, was at Thursday’s meeting, and she concurred with Pokrandt.

“Talking is always better than not talking,” Biggs said. “And planning is always better than not planning.”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Monday, June 24, 2019.

Video: Taken by storm — Future meteorologists hit the high plains for an up-close view of severe weather — @MSUDenver

Click through to watch the video. Here’s the release from Metropolitan State University of Denver (John Arnold):

Sam Ng’s students learn all about mesocyclones and tornados in his weather lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

But to fully understand and respect the kind of severe weather they’ll be forecasting as meteorologists, he wants them to see it for themselves. Not in textbooks but on the wind-swept plains of Colorado and surrounding states.

“So, our lab is actually outside, in the field,” said Ng, a professor of meteorology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Students in Sam Ng’s Field Observation of Severe Weather Class connect what they learn in the classroom with real-world weather events. Photo by Sam Ng via Metropolitan State University of Denver

Every spring, with cameras, weather radar and instruments in hand, Ng and his students hit the road in search of the perfect storm. Students in this year’s course – Field Observation of Severe Weather – covered 3,750 miles in four states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

During the six-day road trip, the class witnessed two tornados, a mesocyclone, lightning, large hail and high winds.

Students in Sam Ng’s Field Observation of Severe Weather class hit the road every spring to observe storm structures, like this mesocyclone in Imperial, Nebraska. Photo by Sam Ng via Metropolitan State University of Denver

“Almost everything that I would want the students to see that connects the theories with observation,” Ng said, adding that he emphasizes teaching students how to observe weather safely.

“There are a lot of people out there who have been too reckless chasing storms because they want to be the first to have the (camera) click,” he said. “What I’m hoping is for my students to learn from me and my co-instructor to become responsible storm observers and responsible meteorologists.”

@USGS: Photo Galleries from the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition

Looking down on camp at Big Pine, Red Canyon.
The photo shows the SCREE Powell 150 expdition camp at Big Pine Campground in Red Canyon of the Green River, Utah. The large green tarp was set up to keep the kitchen area and campers dry. Two very large ponderosa pines are in the center of camp, and surely were witness to the 1869 Powell expedition. Photo credit SCREE via the USGS.

Click here to view the photo galleries from the folks that are paddling down the Green and Colorado rivers to commemorate John Wesley Powell’s first expedition.

Adams State Salazar Center to host groundwater talk by State Engineer Kevin Rein, July 15, 2019

Learn the history of ground water administration and get up to date on the new rules and regulations for ground water, at a timely presentation by Colorado’s top water official, State Engineer Kevin Rein. “The State’s Role in the Rio Grande Basin: Our Shared Water Future” will be held on Monday, July 15 at 7 pm, in Adams State University’s McDaniel Hall, Room 101. The event is free and open to the public.

Given the ever-increasing pressures on the water supply in the San Luis Valley and across Colorado, the State Engineer will provide background on the role of the State Engineer and the Division of Water Resources in administering the waters of the State. He’ll present an overview of history of ground water administration in Colorado and a hydrogeologic explanation of how wells deplete streams. 

Mr. Rein will then address the State’s emerging role in the Rio Grande Basin, with the court approval of groundwater rules and regulations in March. (See: https://rgwcd.org/images/RGWCD/Decree_Case_No_15CW3024.pdf for the full text of the court ruling.) He will also discuss his letter of December 2018 to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District about efforts to restore the Valley’s aquifers and DWR’s obligations to administer the Subdistrict #1’s Plan of Water Management. (See: https://alamosanews.com/article/letter-to-the-editor-state-engineer-issues-warning.) There will be time for questions and answers as well.

The Adams State University Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center is hosting the presentation as part of its new Water Education Initiative. They aim to bring relevant and useful information to ASU’s students and faculty and the local community about critical issues related to water in the San Luis Valley, its past and current management, and community-based approaches to sustainable water use for the future.

Parking for this free event is available in the parking lot off 1st St. just to the east of McDaniel Hall, open to the public after 5 p.m. For more information, contact Rio de la Vista, Director of the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center, at 719-850-2255 or riodelavista@adams.edu.

Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

Video: 40th Annual GWC Summer Conference Day 1

Session One: The Pre-Amble to IG 2.0
The Interim Guidelines introduced major changes in river management, and established an operational framework and collaborative environment supporting additional reforms, including the recent DCPs (Drought Contingency Plans). How does this background inform and influence the path forward to new rules?

Dillon Reservoir and rivers on the rise — News on TAP

Summit County urges residents and visitors to be prepared during peak runoff season. The post Dillon Reservoir and rivers on the rise appeared first on News on TAP.

via Dillon Reservoir and rivers on the rise — News on TAP

Efforts to clean up Fountain Creek and leverage it for recreation are building in #ColoradoSprings

From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

A will, but not a way — quite yet

While the interest in cleaning up Fountain Creek through downtown Colorado Springs is building, the coalitions and money needed to do it are lagging.

Trout Unlimited, the nationwide organization known for advocating for water quality improvements to bolster recreation, has not been involved. The local chapter’s president, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, cast doubt on the possibility of a sustainable trout population in the stretch, but he said he would be interested in learning more.

There are cleanups of the area around the stream, but any visitor can clearly see that they aren’t solving the problem.

“We’re absolutely talking about it,” City Council President Richard Skorman said. “But, no, there’s not, like, $10 million in a fund today that’s involved in it.”

State Sen. Owen Hill, the Republican lawmaker Peak ventured into the creek with, said he is working to build support among nongovernmental organizations to complete a cleanup. Hill declined to identify the groups because he’s still in the early stages of talks to get them aboard.

“It is a little sketchy, but we aren’t going to change that without building the awareness,” Hill said, noting that he has returned many times to fish the creek. “When you look at our grandparents’ generation, they used to picnic down there and swim in the creek. And now we’re afraid to go down there without waterproof clothing on.”

Colorado Springs’ City Council recently passed ordinances increasing fines for littering and prohibiting camping within 100 feet of a public stream to help improve water quality in Fountain Creek. The latter, which adds to the city’s existing camping ban, has drawn pushback from advocates who say transients are being unfairly blamed for a bigger problem.

Skorman says homeless displacement is a concern of his, but that the city is working toward solutions. He said he envisions that one day the confluence of Monument and Fountain creeks downtown could be like Confluence Park in central Denver, where people swim, kayak and fish.

“We’re probably a good 10 years behind other communities,” Skorman said. “I dream about this at night. It’s my big passion. And I think we’re going to do it here. I think we’re going to do something special.”

As for Peak, he’s going to continue working to raise awareness of Fountain Creek’s potential.

“This isn’t something that the current city council or government did, but it is something that they have to deal with,” Peak said. “What to do? That’s the million dollar question.”

Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013